On Tuesday evening, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ended her ‘Save the Constitution’ dharna, but made it clear that her fight against the BJP is far from over—a national-level rally on the same issue is scheduled to be held in New Delhi later this month.
As the Lok Sabha elections draw nearer, opposition leaders aren’t sparing any chance to attack the ruling BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi—and Banerjee is at the forefront. The most recent instance, when she refused to let the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe the Kolkata police chief in the Saradha chit fund scam, was only the latest in a long list of Mamata-Modi showdowns.
The Trinamool Congress leader is doing what she has done best throughout her political career, notably against the CPM-led Left government in West Bengal as an opposition leader—taking to the streets to rally support against a ruling government. The stakes are, of course, higher now—with the BJP’s victory in 2019 no longer a foregone conclusion, many regional leaders are eyeing the top post, should a coalition of opposition parties manage to secure a majority in the general election.
The BJP has also been looking to make inroads into West Bengal, where it has failed to find a stronghold so far. Over the past year, Banerjee has spoken out against many of the BJP’s actions and policy decisions—these include the beef ban, NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
Blocking rallies by BJP leaders
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had to travel by road from Jharkhand for his rally in the Purulia district on Tuesday after the state government refused to give permission for his helicopter to land. This played out even as the CBI-Kolkata police stand-off was continuing.
While Adityanath called this move “undemocratic”, the BJP had to cancel his Bankura rally. Adityanath was also forced to address a rally in Balurghat over the phone after his helicopter was denied permission to land.
Recently, BJP President Amit Shah had to use a BSF helipad to land in communally sensitive Malda after Banerjee’s government said it could not grant permission.
Mamata against NRC
Even as the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) was being updated in Assam, BJP leaders in West Bengal demanded a similar list in West Bengal. When Bengal BJP leader Locket Chatterjee mocked Banerjee, asking her whether she stood for illegal immigrants or the people of Bengal, Banerjee responded with a challenge— “Who are they? Let them touch anyone and they will see the consequences.”
When the Citizenship Amendment bill was passed
Banerjee had also opposed the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which will give eligibility to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to apply for Indian citizenship.
“The centre will have to withdraw the Citizenship Bill. There is no question of supporting it. We will oppose it. We will not let him (Modi) succeed.”
TMC staged a walkout, along with Congress and other parties, when the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in January.
BJP’s rath yatra in Bengal
In December 2018, the West Bengal government refused permission for the BJP’s proposed Rath Yatra in the state citing security concerns. The TMC government alleged in a letter to the BJP that organisations such as the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal, that have an “overtly communal agenda,” could create tensions.
Taking a dig at BJP’s proposed rally, Banerjee had said, “ISKCON conducts rath yatra here, it is Sri Jagannath’s rath yatra, not a yatra to kill people. A rath yatra is not meant to kill people, otherwise it is a danga yatra.”
Later in December, though the Calcutta High Court gave BJP permission for the rath yatra, the West Bengal government filed an appeal before a division bench of the Calcutta High Court. After the division bench set aside the order, the BJP approached the Supreme Court. The apex court also refused permission to BJP for the rally saying the state government’s apprehension that the rath yatra might lead to a possible law-and-order situation cannot be called unfounded.
Hindutva politics, what? We celebrate Christmas too!
The BJP state leadership had questioned the decision of the state government to dole out Rs 28 crore to Durga Puja committees, calling it a bid to win Hindu votes. Banerjee was quick to shut down them down by saying, “We organise Durga Puja, Christmas, Eid, Buddha Purnima. We all participate in festivities. This is our pride.”
When she questioned Aadhaar card linking
Banerjee also opposed the compulsory linking of Aadhaar card details for basic needs such as mobile and banking. In November 2017, much before the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar ruling, she had said she would not link her Aadhaar to her mobile number.
“Linking of Aadhaar is very problematic. In name of Aadhaar card, details are being put on websites, which is dangerous for freedom of expression, the society and the country. Why they did this I don’t know. Some people feel happy even after doing bad things,” she said.
Beef with BJP over meat
During BJP’s crackdown on illegal slaughterhouse in March 2017, the West Bengal government rolled out a ‘Meat on Wheels’ project to deliver meat to people’s doorsteps. While beef wasn’t on the menu, the counters and kiosks set up by the state government sold mutton, lamb, pork, koel, turkey, duck and chicken.
In May 2017, when the BJP put a ban on sale of cattle for slaughter, Banerjee called it unconstitutional and said the West Bengal government wouldn’t accept it. She had also questioned the decision of the Modi government to introduce the ban right before Ramzan. “It is absolutely unconstitutional so we won’t accept it. We will also challenge it,” she had said.
In poor health
The West Bengal government withdrew from the central government’s flagship Ayushman Bharat scheme last month due to disagreements over how the scheme is being funded.
“My state will not contribute 40% of the funds for the Ayushman scheme. Centre has to pay the full amount if Centre wants to run the scheme,” she said.